“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4; ESV)
Can one be happy or blessed all the time? Is happiness the same thing as clowning around? Can one be happy and mourn simultaneously? If we think of happiness or blessedness as a perpetual state of being that is equivalent to clowning around all the time, then there’s no occasion for mourning. If, however, we think of happiness or blessedness as a state of being in which one responds appropriately to life circumstances, then there would be occasions when mourning is appropriate, indeed blessed, and clowning around is not. In this case, Matthew 5:4 does not come across as a bad joke: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (ESV).
Would you go to a funeral service for someone killed in a tragic event and clown around during the memorial? I hope not. It wouldn’t be appropriate. Would you act silly and crack a bunch of jokes when someone’s telling you they just received word they’re dying of cancer? I doubt it. At least, not if you’re emotionally intelligent.
In the face of challenging life circumstances, I look back with feelings of happiness and a sense of being blessed by having loved ones and friends who have identified with me in my grief rather than clown around. I can only hope and pray that I respond similarly to them when they go through dark times.
My friend Trudi is a clown as well as a pastor. Her clown’s name is Nellie. Her pastor’s name is Trudi. Trudi’s one of the most relationally astute people I know. In my experience, she responds appropriately and empathically to people’s various emotional states. She exemplifies emotional intelligence.
Given that I’ve used the term “emotional intelligence” a few times already, it would be good to define it. So, what’s emotional intelligence? According to Psychology Today,
Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others. It is generally said to include three skills: emotional awareness; the ability to harness emotions and apply them to tasks like thinking and problem solving; and the ability to manage emotions, which includes regulating your own emotions and cheering up or calming down other people.
If one thinks of clowns or pastors as silly or scary creatures, then one will miss out on key qualities that Trudi and Nellie embody. As a pastor and as a clown, my friend helps others come to terms with their life situations, drawing close and drawing out from them fitting emotional responses to their circumstances.
Take mourning, for example. As a pastor, Trudi discerns the importance of encouraging people to become aware of their need to mourn in view of their spiritual brokenness and that of the world. After all, if Jesus is a man of sorrows, familiar with suffering, grieving deeply while taking on the sin of the world (Isaiah 53:3-6), shouldn’t we mourn, too? When we respond appropriately to our spiritual surroundings and state, we are blessed. We are also blessed when we apply appropriately emotional responses to tasks at hand. What do such appropriate applications look like? Those who are poor in spirit (Matthew 5:3) and who mourn their spiritual poverty (Matthew 5:4) will be meek toward others (Matthew 5:5). They will also hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness (Matthew 5:6). The other beatitudes come into view here as well. Lastly, we are blessed if we regulate our emotional state and cheer or calm others, as the need arises, so that we live into the fullness of Jesus’ kingdom mission. Trudi assists those around her live the blessed life, even as she helps them mourn appropriately—not beating themselves up or down, but despairing of any attempts to save themselves, looking only unto Jesus to secure them.
Clowns like Trudi’s Nellie don’t always have to be silly to help people be happy. Nor do pastors like Trudi have to be upbeat all the time to help people experience blessedness. But they do have to understand when mourning is appropriate, how to harness it for navigating life circumstances well, and how to regulate emotions so that they do not take us too high or too low. The appropriate emotional state leaves us just right: right where Jesus would have us—centered in him in his kingdom of beatitudes.
Readers are also encouraged to read the biblical meditation titled “‘Blessed are those who mourn’—not those who are spiritually comfortable.”